BEMIDJI, Minn. – English teacher Neva Rogers finally had found a place where she felt needed, where she could give opportunities to poverty-stricken children who struggled with teen pregnancies, drugs and alcohol.
That place was Red Lake High School, where she died in a school shooting last week. While students crouched under their desks in a corner, Rogers stood in the open and prayed.
“God be with us. God help us,” 15-year-old Ashley Lajeunesse heard Rogers say after she told students to hide as gunman Jeff Weise fired through a window and marched into the room.
“He walked up to that teacher with the shotgun, and he pulled the trigger, but it didn’t fire,” said Chongai’la Morris, 14. “Then he pulled out his pistol, and he shot her three times in the side and once in the face.”
Rogers, 62, was the only teacher killed by Weise, a depressed teenager who last week shot his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, then went to the high school and shot Rogers, a security guard and five students before turning the gun on himself.
Friends and family of the slain teacher gathered Sunday for a wake. A funeral was scheduled for Monday.
Rogers’ adult children were not surprised by their mother’s actions.
“There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her students,” said her son, Vern Kembitskey, 34, recalling that she gave scarves and gloves to needy children and helped help raise money for kids to take field trips to Washington, D.C.
Rogers, who was not of American Indian descent, felt she was needed at Red Lake, a place where truancy is common and teens face poverty, pregnancy and violence.
She had a soft spot for teens who had lost their parents or became parents at a young age, said her daughters, Cindy Anderson and Kim Kvam. But she also expected a lot from her students and would stay late to help them.
“One of the things she admired most were people who came from absolutely nothing and made something of themselves,” Kembitskey said.
In a state survey conducted last year of 56 Red Lake ninth-graders, nearly half the girls said they had attempted to kill themselves. Twenty percent of boys said the same – numbers about triple the rate statewide.
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